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New York City's Changing High School Landscape: High Schools and Their Characteristics, 2002-2008


"New York City's public high school system -- the nation's largest -- underwent a sweeping transformation during the first decade of the twenty-first century. At the start of the decade, students were routinely assigned to their zoned high schools, which often had thousands of students and were overcrowded and low-performing. By the 2007-2008 school year, some 23 large and midsize schools with graduation rates below 45 percent were closed or on their way to closing. Simultaneously, many new schools that were intended to serve high school-age students came into being, including almost 200 new small schools. In a break with past practices, the majority of the new small schools accepted students at all levels of academic proficiency and thus were open to those who would likely have attended the closed schools. School choice was extended to all students -- another notable departure from prior policies -- by giving them an opportunity to indicate up to 12 schools that they wanted to attend. A computerized process was then used to assign each student to his or her top-ranked school where a space was available and where admissions priorities (for example, academic standing or geographic residence, depending on the school) were met. While the introduction of choice affected all public high school students, most of the school closings and openings were concentrated in low-income, nonwhite areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn. The scale and rapidity of the changes were grounded in the conviction of key New York City Department of Education officials, staff at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others committed to school reform that small schools could more effectively meet the academic and socioemotional needs of disadvantaged students. This report is one of four Gates-sponsored inquiries into the implementation and impacts of the City's small school reforms. The report considers the historical backdrop for the reforms, charting changes in the number of schools that are categorized as large, midsize, or small, and as academically selective or nonselective, depending on whether they consider prior academic performance in their admissions decisions. It also describes the characteristics of schools that fall into the various categories, as well as the characteristics of their students."